Power assist

A new design concept from UK-based Cambridge Consultants brings manual feel and interactivity back to motorised products such as tools and kitchen appliances.

A new design concept from UK-based Cambridge Consultants (CCL) brings manual feel and interactivity back to motorised products such as tools and kitchen appliances.

Dubbed ‘Power Assist’, it is a low-cost control and feedback technique that allows users to control the power of an electric motor in an appliance based on the use of a hand-wheel.

Hence it provides a way for designers of such products to replaces crude ‘on/off’ functionality with a responsive control mechanism that is directly related to a user’s hand movement.

CCL has demonstrated the concept on a power drill, where the normal trigger control is replaced by the kind of hand-wheel used on a manual drill. Motor power is applied according to the wheel’s speed of rotation, while a novel torque feedback technique applies varying degrees of reverse pressure to the wheel to give the user the sensation of the load and the force being applied.

In this example, CCL’s control scheme gives the tool a much more natural feel, directly translating a user’s turning hand movement into powered drilling – slowing or stopping in synchronisation with the user’s hand, and reversing drilling direction if the user changes rotation direction.

The developers at CCL say that the ‘Power Assist’ technique can be added to most kinds of motor-powered appliances, such as consumer and trade equipment, using just a handful of low cost components, which in essence are a slightly more sophisticated version of the motor control circuitry that is already used.

‘This new concept creates an opportunity to produce a range of high-value, interactive products, at relatively low cost. This is particularly important in markets like power tools, where many products are mature and gravitating towards commodity pricing. The concept has been tested, and user reaction has been very encouraging,’ said Craig Webster, Head of Power Products at CCL.